Exercising with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis

There is no worse feeling than being unable to breathe properly. It is embarrassing, stressful, and deflating to not only have to stop whatever you’re doing, but observe everyone else being able to complete their daily routines without being hampered by their inability to breathe.

As someone who suffers from seasonal allergies, this is something I experience once in a while during the spring and summer months. But for someone suffering from Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF), this is a daily reality that they must face every time they exert themselves physically.

What is IPF?

IPF is a lung disease that results in scarring (or sometimes known as fibrosis) of the lungs. Researchers and Doctors have not been able to come up with a specific reason for why this takes place. Despite there being no confirmed cause of IPF, many risk factors have been identified including but not limited to [1]:

  • Family history and Genetics: Up to 20% of individuals with IPF have another family member with some form of lung disease.
  • Cigarette smoking: Approximately 75% of people with IPF are current or previous cigarette smokers.
  • Acid reflux : Approximately 75% of people with IPF have symptoms of acid reflux or heartburn.
  • Sex: Approximately 75% of patients with IPF are male.
  • Age: Almost all patients with IPF are over the age of 50 years

Individuals who develop IPF in their later years are put at a significant disadvantage when it comes to maintaining and improving their physical fitness levels. Without enough air being exchanged at the lungs, this means that there is less oxygen available to your working muscles and other important organs like your brain. Over time, this will lead to weakness, illness, and an increased risk of early mortality [2].

Exercise for Individuals with IPF:

The good news is that there is evidence suggesting that exercise therapy, specifically in the form of an effective pulmonary rehabilitation program, is clinically beneficial for individuals who suffer from IPF [3]. The researchers concluded that exercise therapy improves exercise tolerance, functional capacity, pulmonary function, dyspnea and quality of life in patients with IPF [3]. Simply put, exercise works!

Now you might be wondering what kind of exercise should be done to slow down or even eliminate the symptoms associated with IPF. The workout protocol in the study referenced earlier [3] was approximately 60 minutes long and took place twice a week for 12 weeks. Each session was supervised and included the following:

  • 5 to 8 minutes of warm-up exercises (calisthenics), short active stretching and deep breathing exercises.
  • 30 minutes of aerobic interval training (treadmill walking, leg-cycling and step climbing in a continuous sequential manner).
  • 10 minutes of resistance training with dumbbells and training for the upper and lower body.
  • 5 minutes of flexibility training.

You might notice that this workout program is similar to one that you might see a healthy adult perform; and you would be correct! The key difference with this protocol is that the specific exercises within the program were selected, designed/modified and supervised by regulated health professionals. Proper supervision is not only critical to ensure that exercises and stretches are performed correctly, but also to ensure that symptoms are being monitored closely will the exercises are taking place.

Work With a Pro:

Only experienced and regulated health professionals should be programming and supervising exercise sessions for individuals diagnosed with IPF.

At Stephen Fitness & Rehabilitation, we offer personal training and physiotherapy services specifically designed for these individuals.

Contact us to learn more about how we can help you or your loved one become stronger more mobile and independent in the comfort of their own home!


[1] Gross, Thomas J., and Gary W. Hunninghake. “Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.” New England Journal of Medicine 345.7 (2001): 517-525.

[2] Fell, C. D., Liu, L. X., Motika, C., Kazerooni, E. A., Gross, B. H., Travis, W. D., … & Flaherty, K. R. (2009). The prognostic value of cardiopulmonary exercise testing in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. American journal of respiratory and critical care medicine179(5), 402-407.

[3] Vainshelboim, B., Oliveira, J., Yehoshua, L., Weiss, I., Fox, B. D., Fruchter, O., & Kramer, M. R. (2014). Exercise training-based pulmonary rehabilitation program is clinically beneficial for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Respiration88(5), 378-388.